What is Prototype-Based Bias?
A manager is first and foremost a human being, and human beings are exposed to a phenomenal quantity of information each day. To make it easier to process all this data, and to help us make decisions quickly, the brain tends to create shortcuts. In several situations, these shortcuts clearly serve a purpose, saving us time and energy. However, they are also the basis of our unconscious biases, which can lead to decisions being made that lack in objectivity and impartiality.
A prototype-based bias is the tendency to have a “model” candidate in mind for a position, and to only consider those who perfectly match this profile. This bias can already manifest itself when the job offer is being drafted and continues beyond the selection process, right up to the interviews and the integration process.
While potential candidates might feel themselves to be competent and motivated, some don’t bother applying for some job positions, as they don’t identify with the profile as it has been written. For example, studies have shown that certain adjectives tend to be perceived by candidate/s as “masculine” characteristics (for example, the ability to work under pressure, problem-solving skills, analytical abilities, leadership, interest in new technologies, etc.), while others tend more to attract women (good interpersonal communication skills, ability to work in a team, being organized, independent, creative, open to criticism, ability to share and putting forward ideas, etc.)
Minimizing Prototype-Based Bias: A Logical and Beneficial Process
A major obstacle to workplace diversity and equity, prototype-based bias not only has adverse effects on individuals (for example, joblessness, exclusion, poverty, etc.), it can also deprive organizations of interesting and relevant applications.
In this sense, did you know that, in particular, diversified teams have higher workplace satisfaction, exhibit greater creativity and innovation, are better able to respond to the needs of a diverse clientele, and have better financial results?
Let it be said that there is no perfect applicant. Often, in crystallizing their vision around allegedly imperative skills, recruiters unconsciously omit to evaluate applicants who could potentially infuse a company with the enthusiasm and innovation it might need to ensure its long-term viability.
For all these reasons, it is beneficial, if not essential, that prototype-based bias be minimized throughout the entire recruitment process.
Towards Inclusive and Diversified Teams
To keep prototype-based bias from altering the judgement and decisions of managers when recruiting employees, several strategies can be put in place along different steps of the process:
Drafting the Job Offer
When drafting the job description, use inclusive and gender neutral vocabulary. Rather than listing the many characteristics of the “ideal candidate,” try to identify a minimum number of skills and aptitudes for the role to be filled. Each job offer must thus only include the key basic skills required of the position, rather than an exhaustive list of unrealistic expectations and requirements. This way the candidate will feel that their skills are in line with the proposed challenge and will try to secure the job in question. On this note, remember that the number of people applying for a job knowing that they do not have the required skills is marginal.
Posting the Job and Selecting Candidates
Once a job offer is ready to be posted, don’t hesitate to promote it outside of your usual networks, whether they are personal or within institutions. Various organizations and websites allow you to increase the visibility of your job postings and thus improve the representativity of minorities and women in your pool of applicants. (e.g., on job search social networking groups, on sites dedicated to organizations serving minorities, such as LGBTQ+ , or sites consulted by the general population such as arrondissement.com )
To obtain a critical mass of applicants from under-represented groups, take the time to separate applicants into different categories. For example, one way to minimize a gender bias would be to separate curriculum vitae from men and women into two distinct piles, and to then choose the two or three best profiles from each group.
Lastly, tell yourself that interviewing applicants with diverse professional backgrounds will at least allow you to improve your ability to sort through the applications and, at best, upgrade and enrich your teams and the work dynamics within the organization.
Prejudices we might have are not just limited to people who are different from us, they can also be reflected in applicants who resemble us. To keep yourself from identifying with the profile of certain applicants on the basis of apparent similarities (for example, age, origin, education, etc.), to the detriment of other candidates whose profile is more different from our own, it is important to try to avoid basing our decisions on our “feelings,” and rather, to apply the same assessment criteria uniformly across all applicants. To make this happen, plan for structured interviews in which all applicants are asked the same questions, thus allowing you to focus on objective criteria.
Ultimately, your judgement will be more objective if it is based on a sharing of opinions with other persons. If possible, create a selection committee with other employees with different perspectives and backgrounds.
Inclusion and Diversity: For the Optimum Development of Individuals and Businesses
In conclusion, it is not only possible, it is also desirable to create a business culture that is based on diversity and inclusion. In this sense, people in charge of recruitment have the power to create double the opportunities. On the one hand, they can contribute to the socio-professional integration and optimum development of people coming from a multitude of backgrounds and having many different cultural horizons. On the other hand, they enable businesses to benefit from the knowledge, experience and skills of under-represented groups, thus providing them with a competitive advantage in the business world.
Where are you from? An Awareness Raising Workshop for Businesses
With the goal of promoting inclusion and diversity in professional environments, YWCA Montreal offers a participatory workshop meant for managers and people in charge of recruitment in small and medium-sized businesses.
The objective of this workshop is to shed light on the unconscious biases present in all steps of the recruitment process, as well as during the welcoming and integration of personnel. In addition, it aims to support the implementation of good practices within organizations so that they became socially and culturally diverse environments conducive to the self-actualization of each individual.
To find out more about our workshop, visit our page: https://www.ydesfemmesmtl.org/en/whereareyoufrom/
This project was developed thanks to funding from Binam (Bureau d’intégration des nouveaux arrivants à Montréal) of the City of Montreal and the Government of Quebec.
 .Trix, Frances and Carolyn Psenka (2003), “Exploring the Colour of Glass: Letters of Recommendation for Female and Male Medical Faculty,” Discourse & Society 14(2); Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (2012), Reviewing Applicants: Research on Bias and Assumptions.